About a decade ago I had a good friend, Rob, who was a youth pastor in a large Apostolic Lutheran church. He was a good man, humble and cared a great deal about the kids he worked with, including some of my own.
It didn’t take long to realize that Rob was being severely manipulated and I would say, “spiritually abused,” by his senior pastor, Dave.
Dave was a very popular pastor. He was charismatic in personality and in theology. He had a direct link to God, so he thought, and God told him such and such each every day. It just so happens that the things that God told Dave were also the very things that would give some type of benefit to the pastor.
But with a booming voice, cobalt blue eyes and extreme confidence, parishioners fell in love with Dave and considered him a real man of God . . . a modern day prophet.
This made it really difficult on Rob. Dave had him under his thumb and demanded more and more “self-denial” by Rob, which translated into things that he had to do for his boss, like conducting services, giving up salary, driving buses. If ever you went against Dave’s orders, not only did you receive a scolding but his “righteous” anger would reach almost the point of physical abuse.
My friend finally saw the light. But going against this popular pastor was very difficult. In the end, the pastor split the huge church in half. He defined those that followed him to a new church in a nearby school as “God’s chosen” and those who stayed, as Satan’s people.
But I remember Rob coming out of this situation very depressed and disillusioned. He bounced around between several ideas over the subsequent couple of years. One of them (as a pendulum swing from his extreme self-denial) was what he called “Christian Hedonism.”
With Christian Hedonism, he so stated, was knowing that you are completely covered by the blood of Christ, therefore you should do whatever you desired to do. If you wanted to drink a case of Pilsner and get plastered, that was fine. The issue of sin didn’t matter just doing what you want and that would bring real happiness.
This phase did not last long for Rob, thank goodness. Once again, I think it was just a gut reaction from being abused for so long.
But this is just an introduction to this whole concept of “self denial” and the main question is, has this concept been abuse? Misunderstood? Used to manipulate people? Is there a Dualistic influence in the way we interpret self denial, taking in more of the Buddhist or Hindu approach than a true Biblical idea. Does a constant denial of self, in the misguided way, take away from some of our contentment or happiness?
I will close with one of the key versed that self denial has been taken from over the centuries. I want to mediate on this and get back.
21Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. 22And he said, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life."
23Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 25What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? 26If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God."